Self Guided Walking Tour NYC: A Local’s Guide
I get it. You want to see NYC like a local but don’t want to spend a small fortune on a walking tour where you are rushed through iconic, New York City landmarks, like the Empire State Building, at warp speed. I hear ya. I much prefer a self guided walking tour of NYC where I can move at my own pace and actually see some top NYC attractions.
The whole free, NYC self-guided walking tour thing is kind of nice since New York City is expensive AF. And ain’t nobody got a trust fund to cover the cost of a trip to New York City (if you do have a trust fund, give me a call).
So that’s why I’ve created this self-guided, NYC walking tour of Mid-town Manhattan.
Not only is it free and easy but this tour is absolutely perfect for anyone who is visiting New York City for the first time.
But what about the old pros who have visited New York City dozens of times and have done countless guided walking tours?
Not to worry!
I’ve created some local detours that are perfect for the savvy, New York City traveler, who has seen just about everything and needs some more creative New York City travel tips.
God, I hope so since I’ve done this tour countless times and still love it. Somehow, strolling through the epicenter of New York City, while passing such iconic New York City landmarks as Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, and Rockefeller Center just never gets old.
(FYI this tour is through midtown only. So if you want a guided tour that takes you to iconic sights as the Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, Battery Park, Ellis Island, parts of Brooklyn, then check out this five and a half hour, comprehensive New York City sightseeing tour)
Doing this walking tour of New York City always gives me a sense of excitement and confidence that stems from being in one of the greatest cities in the world.
So take a stroll with me and explore some of the top attractions in New York City, Along the way, we’ll also see some unique things to do in New York City and learn about some of the best places to eat in New York City too!
You know it’s gonna be fun since you get to laugh at me and my lame jokes along the way!
Dead ass, this is EXACTLY what NY is like. Minus the I love NY shirt.
***Looking for the best hotels in New York City? Some of my faves include the Lucerne Hotel (best-hidden gem), Holiday Inn (best value), Greenwich Hotel (best pool), and Pod 39 (best budget hotel with small rooms but great atmosphere and service).***
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STOP 1: Grand Central Terminal
Once you walk into this iconic New York City building:
You’ll immediately be struck by the pale blue ceiling, shimmering with radiant specks of light that resemble the constellations in the night sky above.
You can’t really see the night sky in New York City. But if you could this is what it would look like. The only one I really know is Orion and Orion’s belt, but there are a ton of other constellations on the ceiling too. Sorry Middle School science teacher. I’ve failed you.
Once You’ve Taken in this Magnificent ceiling:
Walk towards the lower concourse until you see an area with four arches, known as the Whispering Walls.
While you’re here:
Have one person stand at the opposite end of the archway, while the other person speaks towards the wall, at a normal volume.
The other person will be able to hear you perfectly even though they are a solid 30 feet away. Pretty cool huh?
Continue down to the food court where you’ll find a ton of breakfast options to choose from. My personal favorites are Zaro’s for a bagel or pastry and doughnut plant for a Brooklyn Blackout Doughnut.
But there are loads of food kiosks to choose from so I’m sure you’ll find something that you like. And yes, they have a Starbucks. I know because I too am a caffeine monger.
Now, one of the top questions I get about Grand Central Terminal is:
“How do I get a decent picture of Grand Central Terminal?” Easy! Just exit the building at 42nd Street and walk up Park Avenue until you hit East 41st or 40th Street.
Walk to the middle of the road and stand on the island where you can snag a great picture of Grand Central Terminal, minus all the traffic.
***If you have time, Grand Central Terminal runs pay what you wish tours every Sunday at 10 am. The tour lasts about an hour and forty-five minutes and is super informative but just know that you do need to make a reservation.***
SIDE TRIP: If you’ve seen Grand Central Terminal before then head to Ess-A-Bagel and feast on one of the best bagels in New York City.
STOP 2: New York Public Library
I call this home!
Okay, not really since I’m not homeless but you get the idea.
The New York Public Library is practically the book mecca of the WORLD, which makes sense when you realize that this literary institution is home to a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (the first book ever made using a printing press), and an iconic set of stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write a little series called Winnie the Pooh.
The New New York Public Library is easily one of the great free things to do in NYC. And hint, hint, the reading rooms are gorgeous and make a super snazzy spot for a little Instagram photo op.
There also have exciting, rotating exhibits on the ground floor that make it easy to spend an entire day here.
SIDE TRIP: What? You’ve been to the New York Public Library 10,000 times already? No worries. Try visiting the Morgan Public Library instead! With stunning architecture, an exquisite, historic book collection, and free jazz performances, and admission, from 7 pm to 9 pm on Fridays, this is a must-see NYC attraction for anyone planning a return visit to NYC.
STOP 3: Bryant Park
Right behind the library, is the iconic greenery of Bryant Park. Not only is it a great place to people watch, but you can play ping pong, check out some magazines, sit down and have a picnic, or hop on the Carousel for a whimsical throwback to your childhood.
Bryant Park has some of the best cheap eats in New York City! For a truly authentic New York City food experience, visit the Breads Bakery kiosk and buy the Chocolate Babka.
Probably one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had in New York City (the birthday cake croissant at Union Fare is also heaven). Wafels & Dinges is also a great snack spot since they have amazing Belgian Waffles, with diabetic coma-inducing toppings like dulce de leche and Nutella.
***I hate Times Square. I try to stay away but if it’s your first time in New York City, then obviously you’ll want to visit. It’s an easy walk from here but I’m gonna skip it since all you really need to do there is stop, take pictures and leave. So DO NOT eat or buy anything there. It is SUPER expensive and the quality is not so hot***
STOP 4: Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Atlas Statue, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Plaza Hotel
I’m not gonna get into too much detail here since these major New York City attractions are really just glorified photo ops.
Don’t get me wrong:
They’re all worth a visit, especially if you’re visiting New York City for the first time, but there’s not that much to do here, per say.
What I will say though:
Is that if you’re contemplating booking afternoon tea at the Plaza, I highly recommend booking afternoon tea at the Whitby instead. Not only is the service amazing, but the decor is fabulous, and the menu is divine (they even have a healthy menu option).
Much better than afternoon tea at the Plaza, which I feel is super expensive and kind of overrated.
And no, I didn’t forget Tiffany’s!
I saved any mention of Tiffany’s for last because believe it or not, Tiffany’s now has a Blue Blox Cafe where you can go for…wait for it…Breakfast at Tiffany’s!
I haven’t been so I have no idea how good the food is but it looks really fun. Reservations are hard to come by though so make sure to book a table AT LEAST a month in advance (try and call them since online reservations always seem to be filled).
STOP 5: Central Park
Shocking to no one but:
Central Park is huge, hence the whole East and West Side thing. Therefore, I could easily write a single, self-guided walking tour of Central Park, but I’m not gonna turn this post into the second edition of War and Peace.
Let’s suffice it to say:
Strawberry Fields is on the West side of Central Park, and basically, everything else is on the East side of the park.
Now if it were me:
I’d walk through the park, parallel to Fifth Avenue, just because it’s a bit more scenic (if you forget the fact that basically, every episode of Law & Order takes place in this park).
As you walk along the East side of the park, you’ll see Central Park Zoo, the Alice and Wonderland Stature, Bethesda Fountain, the MET, and Belvedere Castle.
All are charming sections of the park:
But my two absolute faves are Bethesda Terrace and Belvedere Castle. Both areas are gorgeous and make great photo spots. Just do yourself a favor and try and get there as early as possible since Bethesda Fountain is not exactly a secret.
Let’s Pause For Lunch (or Brunch)
Well, don’t eat in the museum or at the street vendors right outside the museum since they are ridiculously expensive.
Walk over to Russ & Daughter’s (in the nearby Jewish Museum) and try one of the best brunch spots in NYC.
Here, they serve traditional NY style bagels with lox, as well as a variety of egg dishes and a selection of Jewish deli staples like matzo ball soup and potato latkes.
What, not feeling this restaurant pick?
That’s okay because you can also try Bluestone Lane, which is known for their great coffee and delicious, Australian inspired brunch items, like poached egg on avocado toast.
STOP 6: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the MET)
This is perhaps my absolute favorite museum in New York City. I have literally been here over a dozen times and could easily visit a dozen more, so I’ll keep it brief-ish.
I am still so bummed that as of March, the MET no longer offers pay what you wish tickets. SOB. That was one of the best perks of this museum.
The good news though:
Is that residents of NY, NJ, and CT can still get pay what you wish tickets if you purchase your tickets at the counter and present a valid, state ID.
You’ll see that the MET displays over 5,000 years of art, from practically every country, and time period, in human history. So it makes sense that this fantastical place has been captivating the minds and hearts of people, all over the globe, since 1880.
Wow, things just got deep, pint-size puddle deep.
Anyway, the MET is insanely huge so grab a map and pick out sections of the museum that seem most interesting to you.
I love the Temple of Dendor (turn right at the entrance and walk straight and you can’t miss it) since it is literally an entire Egyptian temple that has been boop, plopped smack dab in the middle of NYC. It’s also a great spot to relax and capture some great photos since this is one of the best Instagram spots in New York City.
My other favorite wing of the museum:
Is the modern art section that displays the works of astounding painters like Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, etc. To find this area, walk up the stairs and turn left. Continue straight, past the photography exhibit and you’ll find it all the way at the end of the hall.
Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
SIDE TRIP: If you’ve been to the MET or think it’s a total snooze fest, I highly recommend the Frick Collection and the Copper Hewitt Museum (free Saturday nights); the Frick Collection is for classic art enthusiasts and the Cooper Hewitt Museum is for modern art and design lovers.
***If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, then definitely skip the line and purchase your Top of the Rock Observation Deck ticket in advance. I personally enjoyed this view more than the one from the top of the Empire State Building.***
FINAL STOP: Cupcake ATM
So I know that the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM is not a new thing, but if you haven’t tried it, you really should.
Not only are Sprinkles cupcakes extra delicious (I personally love the red velvet cupcake), but this ATM is a fun and exciting experience for anyone who loves cupcakes.
The Sprinkles ATM is located on Lexington and 61st street. Therefore, you can stop by while walking uptown or on your way back downtown, whatever works best for you.
If you’re totally over this craze and are looking for a more authentic, New York City dessert experience, then head over to LeVain Bakery which literally has the BEST cookies in New York City. They’re warm, moist and super delicious.
LeVain Bakery is ALL the way on the West side so instead of walking, you might want to take crosstownwn bus. But I swear, the cookies are totally worth the trip.
So what do you think NYC fans? How do we feel about this self-guided walking tour of NYC? I still love it, even after living here the majority of my life. Something about this New York City walking tour just makes me fall in love with the grandeur and beauty of this city all over again.
Would love to hear about any self-guided walking tours you’ve been on and if you’re interested in seeing more posts about a self-guided walking tour of Central Park, a self-guided walking tour of Brooklyn and more!
So if you’re digging this free walking tour of NYC then pin this now and read it again later!